At the sound of the dwarven horns announcing the arrival of reinforcements, the remaining dwarves cheered and beat their weapons, while the orcs fought more voraciously. The reinforcing dwarves and their king poured down into the valley, brandishing their fearsome battle maces and hammers. They engaged the orcs at the bottom of the valley in a clash of such magnitude that it made the earth shake. The orcs pounded the ground with their feet after each kill, a sort of ritual that was terrifying for non-orcs.
A stray dwarf started meandering towards Forte’s hiding place with a battle-drunken walk, as if he were hit one too many times on the head. The battle-drunken dwarf was close. Nightmare lashed out and attacked, jaws closing on the dwarf’s helmeted head. The dwarf defended feebly as Nightmare shook his prey. After a few moments, the dwarf slumped lifelessly. Nightmare dropped the corpse and returned to his hiding spot. Nightmare was a picky eater, and would not eat a dwarf in armor, who was both unsavory and difficult to eat due to the armor.
The duo watched as the armies fought for hours on end. The orc leader was awash with blood, as was the dwarven king. Forte was impressed by the tenacity of both sides. The dwarves fought even when their bodies were clearly mangled, and the orcs were unstoppable monsters with the power of two if not three dwarves each. The short dwarves pounded the orc’s legs and torsos with their hammers and maces, while the orcs swung down and split the dwarve’s heads with their maces. However, the well crafted helmets of the dwarves saved many of their lives from orc blows to the head. Forte noticed that the dwarves all tended to have facial hair under their helmets, while the orcs wore barely any armor and had no facial hair either. They did have two stunted horns, however. The fight drew on in a long stalemate.
Neither side had sustained heavy casualties, attesting to both dwarven craftsmanship of their armor, and the orc’s thick skin and tough bodies. This was how they could fight for so many years without wiping each other out, Forte thought to himself. At the end of the day, the armies retreated. Bodies littered the battlefield, but they were not as numerous as Forte had first imagined.
It was time to go, Forte decided. He and Nightmare would not get involved in the territorial wars of the orcs and dwarves. Instead, they would head to the Bay of Mists further south. He remembered Fabian Sinclair’s warning about the Bay of Mists. He was to avoid the Isle of Sirens, and head for the Rock of Gibraltar.
The weather became considerably foggier and darker as they continued their caravan journey down south, past dwarven and orc territory. The fertile plains turned into desolate fields of sparse shrubbery, and game to hunt was few and far in between. Forte and Nightmare took turns to hunt what animals were left, and supplemented their diet with rations.
Forte’s magic ability had improved steadily throughout their journey. He seemed to have a natural talent for magic. His command of Infernus was exceptional for a young mage. However, the Fyrza spell was still out of practical usage. Forte suspected that Fyrza was a spell of dark magic origins, and decided to practice it with increased caution.
Nightmare continued to grow as well. He was larger than Forte now, and nearly the same size as a large orc. Forte smirked at the thought of his exceptionally powerful pet. If he were to put Nightmare on the F to S+ scale for pets, he was already exceeding S+. A combat pet that was this powerful was unheard of, unless you could train a wyvern, he thought. But who could train a wyvern? Most pets were not combat oriented, and were used as work animals or just company.
Forte thought of the different ways he could gain influence in northern Varia, the human domain. He would need a city, a military, and money to support it. Forte considered the ways he could procure a large amount of money. He needed to sell something valuable, to procure a resource. But the resource had to be available to only him and nobody else. He came up with a plan. Ores. There seemed to be an orichalcum vein somewhere in the wilderness south of human domain, in the area infested by raptors and wyverns. He just needed to locate a vein, and mine it. But he couldn’t do it alone. He would need allies, or even servants.
Forte scratched the idea. He would need manpower to mine a vein, and those people could easily steal the precious metal ore for themselves. Nightmare levitated behind the caravan. Forte continued to think. He needed money to fund the upkeep for a military. A large sum of money. How else could he generate money? He could raid merchant caravans like he did in the past, but that was not a sustainable source of income, because the merchants would catch on and maybe even send a retaliation force. He could sell slaves, but then he would first have to capture slaves, and the process was difficult. He would require an entire production line like Count Forien had to take a runaway slave from the plains to the the market.
And there was his final idea—a city. That was a dream for now. Eventually he would do so, but it required so many resources that he simply did not have at his disposal at the moment.
Forte stopped the caravan. They had reached a large body of water, and there was no land further south. Of course this would happen, he thought. He had a rudimentary idea of the lay of the area due to the map in The Origins of Dark Magic, and the Bay of Mists was on an island chain. Forte decided to build a boat. Using a combination of his gravitite sword and Nightmare’s fire, he managed to fell a few oak and maple trees. Using the logs, he began fashioning himself a small makeshift raft that would fit him and Nightmare. The bay was an hour away, and Forte reasoned that the raft should hold for that amount of time.
Nightmare suddenly snorted, and belched out a burst of fire onto the partially completed raft. The would-be raft caught fire and started to smolder. It was unusable.
“Hey! What was that for?” Forte shouted angrily.
Nightmare rolled around, and motioned with his head towards his back. Forte understood. Nightmare would fly there.
“Are you sure about this? Can you support me for an hour?” Forte questioned tentatively.
“Alright, let’s do this.” Forte said. He tied the horses and the caravan to a tree with access to food and water, and brought with him a few days worth of rations.
He climbed onto Nightmare’s back, and immediately felt the scales digging into his thighs.
“Ouch.” He yelped in pain. Forte cut open a portion of the caravan’s wagon and used the leather as a crude saddle, and then mounted his dragon with considerably less pain.
Without a word, Nightmare took off. Forte held on desparately to his dragon’s neck as they tried flying. Whenever Nightmare flew too fast, Forte urged him to slow down or he would fall. The clumsy duo eventually got into a rhythm, and took off in the direction of the Bay of Mists. Before long, they heard the sound of what seemed like women singing in beautiful and tempting voices. However, because of their altitude, the voices were distorted and Forte did not fall for their spell. Forte looked down and saw what appeared to be beautiful, scantily clad mermaids swimming near an isle. He realized that he was looking at the Isle of Sirens. In the next few isles, as he hung onto Nightmare for his dear life, he began to see large ruins of a long forgotten kingdom. Tall castles stood shattered and weathered, while what looked like towns were worn down with the wind and unpopulated for centuries. Forte felt like he was reading a map from his bird’s eye point of view. Nightmare swooped down for a seagull, nearly flinging Forte off his back.
“Cut that out or I’ll fall. Seriously.” Forte chided.
Before long, they saw the outline of a large protruding rock, the Rock of Gibraltar, their destination. The castle at the top of the rock had collapsed, and there was only one building left standing—a strange tower a few miles away from the castle.
“Let’s go to that tower. I believe that is where we will unravel the secrets of these ruins.” Forte said to Nightmare.
Nightmare slowly descended in the direction of the tower. The weather was cloudy and dark, without rain. They stopped in front of the tower. It was a menacing ancient tower of weathered stone blocks, four stories high. I urge you to avoid the Isle of Sirens, and reach the Rock of Gibraltar. It is there, where everything that is unclear shall become clear. Forte smiled as he remembered Fabian Sinclair’s words in The Origins of Dark Magic. They had reached their destination, and all the secrets of the place would be revealed. Forte and Nightmare approached the stone door, which Forte opened. Inside was an dank, empty room.
An unfamiliar presence suddenly entered Forte’s mind and bludgeoned his consciousness. Beside him, Nightmare growled.
“Welcome to the trial of cunning.” A deep voice said, speaking directly into their minds.